A reader celebrates the success of Elden Ring and berates publishers for not following its lead in creating games that challenge their audience.
So Elden Ring has completely dominated The Game Awards. It only won four awards, less than God Of War Ragnarök but they were all the most important ones: Best Game Direction, Best Art Direction, and Game of the Year (and Best Role-Playing Game). The most significant one God Of War got was Best Narrative and personally I don’t believe it even deserves that (Immortality should’ve won).
What I love so much about the critical and commercial success of Elden Ring is that it is a 100% old-fashioned ‘proper’ video game. Ragnarök’s fine, I don’t hate it, but it doesn’t require any real skill or thought or effort to beat. Its characters spoil every puzzle before you’ve even walked into the room, none of the fights are hard, and you’re led by the nose to everything. At no point will you ever fail or get confused or have any doubt you’re doing exactly what the developer wants you to do.
And that’s fine. When it’s done to the quality of Ragnarök it’s a lot of fun, but it’s shallow as hell and it’s all quickly forgotten no matter how good the graphics are. But Elden Ring. Finding the tutorial is difficult in Elden Ring, let alone completing it! Everything requires effort. Everything requires thought. It’s not actually that hard, in real terms, you’ve got to want to play it, to engage with it. Not just coast along its surface and let it play the game for you.
Elden Ring gives you nothing on platter. You have to fight for everything, work everything out. You’ve got to plan ahead, figure out where you’re going, not just follow an arrow to where you’ve got to go. But again, it’s not actually that hard. Call in some co-op allies and all bosses are easy, even the most infamous optional ones. You haven’t got to be good to beat Elden Ring, you’ve just got to care and I absolutely love it for that.
Soulsborne type games have been around for a while now, but most big publishers haven’t copied them because while they’ve been mildly successful they’re not that profitable and these things are difficult to make. They’re complicated to beat but that’s nothing compared to making them, so why bother when you can just knock out another shooter or Ubisoft formula game?
Oddly, EA are the only ones that have made a effort, in terms of big budget mainstream games, with Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. It had a lot of influences but the biggest one was Dark Souls and co. It wasn’t as hardcore as a From game but it definitely wasn’t press ‘A’ to win either. And what did they get for their troubles? A game far more successful than they expected, that rejuvenated their faith in single-player games and ultimately led to things like the Dead Space remake. I don’t care if it’s EA, good on them for making the effort.
So what are other companies doing? Elden Ring is in the top 10 selling games of all time – all time! – in the US. You should have publishers climbing over each other to make their wannabe cash-ins. But so far it’s been deathly silence. Exactly the opposite of what happened when Fortnite was first a hit or live service games became big.
And you know why? It’s because these games are hard to make. These publishers don’t want to take the risk. They see the sales of Elden Ring but they can’t quit believe it. How can a game that’s completely indifferent to the needs and wants of its players be so successful? Surely people still, secretly, want to be talked down to and hand-held? The must want to be pushed through a game like a fairground ride, instead of doing or thinking about things for themselves.
Publishers want Elden Ring to go away because it’s a problem they don’t want to solve. Make battle royales? Easy, anyone can do that, even if most of them fail. Make something on the level of beauty and complexity of Elden Ring? No one wants to encourage that. No publisher wants that to become the standard. Better to let the hype fade away and then they can pretend it never happened.
And yet look here: Elden Ring won Game of the Year at the video game Oscars. And best Art Direction. And Best Game Direction. It literally could not succeed more and yet still people want to treat it like an outlier, a one-off.
The publisher that upsets me the most is Sony though. They remade Demon’s Souls, sure, but that requires far less effort than making a new game. They’re sitting on Bloodborne, a game that is arguably even better than Elden Ring, and they won’t so much as release a PlayStation 5 patch for it, let alone order a sequel.
There is life beyond the Sony formula (really just the Ubisoft formula with a decent story) and this new obsession with live service games but they’ve got to push themselves. They’ve got to trust their audience and believe that people want more from themselves and their games. Elden Ring wasn’t a fluke. You don’t sell 18 million copies of a game by accident. Those people didn’t go looking for Call Of Duty and somehow buy the wrong game by accident.
Publishers, all publishers, need to embrace the success of Elden Ring, not hope it goes away so they can go back to making something easier and simpler. People want real games and if they can’t get them from the big name companies they’ll go elsewhere for it. I hope Sony and friends learn that before they’re left out in the cold.
By reader Leitch
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